Do I have to pay my roommate's debt?
June 10, 2008 4:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a financial pickle due to a bad choice of roommates two years ago. What are my options?

Two years ago, I moved in with a girl during my divorce. I was put on the lease as an "addendum" and while I lived in her apartment, I paid 100% of the bills. About a week after I moved out (before her lease was up), she skipped out on the lease. Stupidly, when I turned in my key, remote and parking pass, I asked for a copy of the lease with my name stricken from it and was told that it wasn't necessary... the office woman assured me that I didn't need it and they would strike the addendum from the lease. I walked out not realizing that this girl was planning on moving out, but she did... and left owing almost three thousand dollars. How, I don't know, because I paid EVERYTHING when I stayed there.

For the past year and a half, I have been receiving notices from the creditor who purchased the debt. I spoke with someone recently and tried to explain my situation... unfortunately, the divorce coupled with an IRS audit has cost me over $30,000 and I am more or less penniless. The last thing I can afford now is to pay for someone stupid and irresponsible's mistake.

Unfortunately, the credit company has had no luck getting this girl to pay. She apparently has no bank account, no assets to seize, and refuses to work out a payment plan for the debt. I consulted a lawyer and was told that at some point, the credit company has the right to put a lien on my home to recover the debt. Apparently, this can be done without going to court and without notifying me... and will be horrible for my credit. What options do I have? I cannot pay the debt. I have sold everything of value I own, down to my shoes and clothing. Every penny I have goes to my house payment. It's all I have left. I have accrued almost five thousand dollars in credit card debt just buying groceries and so forth so I cannot put this debt on a credit card... it's maxed out.

Can I negotiate some kind of "settlement payment" with the credit company without a lawyer? I have already tried going directly to the apartment complex people, who told me I was "in collusion" because we left during the same 30-day period. They will not give me a copy of the lease, or the addendum. I cannot afford a lawyer. I have been told I can try going to the Texas Tenants Union, since I'm in Texas, but they probably won't be able to do much.

Has anyone else been in this situation? If so, how did you handle it? I'm worried that before I know it, they will put the lien on my home, and then I won't be able to sell it if I have to. Things are very touch-and-go financially for me, so I would prefer to avoid the lien.

Another person told me that my best option would be to settle the debt directly with the credit company and then take the former roommate to small claims court; how can I do that if I have to charge my groceries as it is? Wouldn't I have to pay a lawyer for that, too?

If anyone would like to respond off-site with ideas or suggestions, please email As stated, I am in Texas, if that helps.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is a good place to start --- be wary of for-profit credit "counselors." Your question is about one particular debt, but credit counseling will help you get a handle on all of your old debt & current obligations, and start looking forward financially.
posted by headnsouth at 4:26 PM on June 10, 2008

"They will not give me a copy of the lease, or the addendum."

If they have filed any court papers, or if the creditor has filed any court papers, this should be the basis for the debt, and thus public record.

Aside from that, you really do sound like you'll need a lawyer. Hopefully other folks will be along to offer suggestions for pro bono attorneys in the area.
posted by klangklangston at 4:43 PM on June 10, 2008

This doesn't seem like precisely what you're looking for, but maybe consider as a source of the funding? It sounds like this $3k is the difference between you maybe making a go of things and you ending up in financial hell, and that's the sort of thing they help with.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:27 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Start here, get some free legal advice and see if you'll need to pay a lawyer or not.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:23 PM on June 10, 2008

I'm also wondering why they won't give you a copy of the original papers. Perhaps they've lost them and if that's the case, you could be unnecessarily incriminating yourself. Don't make any more statements to anyone without consulting a lawyer. It's apparent they don't want to work with you, so stop making overtures until you get some sound legal advice. Good luck.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:38 PM on June 10, 2008

I consulted a lawyer and was told that at some point, the credit company has the right to put a lien on my home to recover the debt. Apparently, this can be done without going to court and without notifying me...

I'm no lawyer, but have much history as both a landlord and a tenant. There must be some nuance missing from that interpretation. AFAIK, even in Texas a landlord needs a court judgement before they can put on lien against a former tenant for moneys left owing. Assuming that understanding is correct, then it would both: go to court, and notify you in advance. (And yeah, sure, a judgement looks bad on the credit report. But it sounds like your overall credit ain't great, so this one item probably wouldn't make a huge difference anyway.)

..., and then I won't be able to sell it if I have to.

This also sounds like a misunderstanding. The objective of a lien is to recoup money owed. It'd be pointless if it prevented a debtor from turning assets into cash. Even if this landlord were able to get a lien, it would likely mean simply that he gets paid out of whatever sale proceeds are left after the mortgage is paid. Then you'd get whatever remains. Not ideal, I know, but different from having no choice at all. Texas does not allow lienholders to force you out of your home, so even in the worst case scenario, you'd at least retain control over when and whether to ever put it up for sale.

You have the right to order them to stop contacting you except to file a lawsuit. Honestly, there's no point in negotiating further if you have no ability to pay an amount big enough for them to go away for good. Most collection agencies have to know from your credit report that it'd be a waste of money to take this to court when you're so obviously in the red and since they can't force you to sell the house.

You have the right to debt validation, by the way. That is, the creditor has to show evidence you're the one who actually incurred the debt, not just someone else in the room. "Collusion"? LOL. Sounds like their claim against you is merely hypothetical. Someone's just hoping you'll pay to make her problems go away. I agree with LuckySeven: for your own good, stop talking to them. But if you feel compelled to for some foolish reason, stick to repeating that this is not your debt, and that you'll be forced to exercise YOUR right to sue THEM if this spurious claim ever shows up on your credit report.

Read up on your rights
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:32 PM on June 10, 2008

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